“Mrs. Loman” is a new play by Barbara Cassidy that imagines what Linda Loman from “Death of a Salesman” does after her husband commits suicide. A satirical critique of misogyny in Miller’s world, this play runs through November 20, 2022, at The Tank in NYC.
Playwright Barbara Cassidy recently discussed this play via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your talent for writing and what was it about plays and the theater that most interested you?
Barbara Cassidy (BC): I was always interested in stories being told and the idea of putting a story out there for others to see. When I was a kid in third grade, I wrote a mystery kind of play inspired by Nancy Drew and I thought we could put it on at the school. My teacher just kind of put it in her desk and never took it out again. That was a little sad. Later on, when I was an adult, I started taking acting classes which I loved very much, but I then found myself trying out for things that didn’t really interest my mind. And I thought I might like to create my own plays with subjects that I was interested in exploring.
MM: Why did “Death of a Salesman” have such a profound impact on you?
BC: “Death of a Salesman” affected me in many ways. It was set in Brooklyn, which is where I was born and have lived for much of my life. Miller’s astute critique of capitalism is profound in the way it wakes us up to what a horrible way it is to spend one’s life, trying to succeed in the game, and how harmful it is to all involved. We see this so clearly in Willy Loman. It can be an awakening for someone, as it was to me as a younger person. It spoke to something I knew deep down to be true. However, I always found it hard to reconcile my love for the play with the misogyny that permeates through it. Linda Loman’s sole purpose in the play is to help Willy, love Willy, take care of Willy. Willy treats her poorly, cheats on her, tells her to stop interrupting him, and is not really interested in her as a person at all. No one is interested in her as a person in the play. Not even herself. The Woman from Boston is not even given a name; she is a caricature of a person. Biff and Happy do not treat women properly. The women are just the extensions of the real person or people’s lives in the play, who are the men. The men in “Death of a Salesman” are the real characters. Now Miller may be critiquing the way women are treated in a capitalist world, but it does not feel that way to me. It feels like he is also not interested in them. And that annoys the hell out of me.
MM: How long did it take you to write this play and how did you embellish the character of Mrs. Loman?
BC: I started writing MRS. LOMAN pre-Covid, in 2019. I was teaching “Death of a Salesman” in a class at John Jay College and it again struck me as extremely problematic. I wrote the first draft of MRS. LOMAN. I don’t remember how long it actually took me, but I think a few months. I had a couple of readings over this time, did a little revision, and asked Meghan Finn to direct it at The Tank. In my Linda Loman character, I imagine what could she possibly be interested in during this time. What might happen? And I also wonder throughout the play (with the character of the 2022 Woman), am I putting my 2022 mind and references on this 1949 woman? Is that fair, or is it impossible not to? And should we judge older works through our contemporary lens?
MM: How did you find The Tank theater?
BC: I had seen work at The Tank before and Meghan Finn’s direction in particular. I saw Mac Wellman’s “The Offending Gesture” and “When We Went Electronic” by Caitlin Saylor Stephens, both of which Meghan directed. I find her direction exciting and bold, and I knew I wanted her to direct my play.
MM: What’s your favorite part of the play and why?
BC: I think my favorite part of the play is when Linda exclaims “I am not wearing stockings anymore, F** that.” It feels like such a liberating moment for Linda and for the audience, who is with her.
MM: What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?
BC: I hope that the audience will ask questions. I would like them to question representation in work; whose story is not getting told. I would also like them to ask what is the answer to problems we witness in the world, what should we do about people who oppress (both in reality and metaphorically), and lastly, how are we complicit in systems of oppression.
MM: What other plays have you gotten produced in the past and do you have any favorites?
BC: Some of my other produced plays are “Supposedly,” “The Director,” “Interim,” and “Anthropology of a Book Club.” I feel like my favorite is always what I am working on at the moment. But maybe from the past, I think “Interim” stays with me most.
MM: What other projects are you working on right now and what themes might you like to explore in future works?
BC: I am working on a play called I AM NOT A TERRORIST which is about an Irish American family grappling with whether to support the IRA in Queens in the late 1970’s. It explores themes of violence, war, and identity. I am also working on a piece about three sisters.
MM: What’s the best thing about working in the arts and what has been the highlight of your career thus far?
BC: The best thing for me about working in the arts is that I am writing about things I am interested in and I actually love working on. The bad thing is the lack of income in this field. The highlight of my career thus far, I think, is watching Monique Vukovic in the title role and the rest of the MRS. LOMAN cast perform MRS. LOMAN with intensity, honesty, and love.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
BC: I would like to mention a program I co-founded and co-direct at John Jay College with Shonna Trinch called Seeing Rape, where students examine sexualized violence over a semester and write plays about rape as final projects. My ultimate goals are to keep on writing and getting work that I think is important up on the stage.
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“Mrs. Loman” runs through November 20 at The Tank (312 West 36th Street). Tickets and more info are available at www.thetanknyc.org.